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STORIES FROM THE CHESWORTH ARCHIVE: CHRISTINE LAWRENCE AND THE MAHIWA YOUNG FARMERS TRAINING CENTRE

At Queen Mary, we love how our archives preserve the stories of ordinary people who are often forgotten by the history books. In this blog post, we look at the life of Christine Lawrence (1930-2011), whose experiences working in Tanzania in the 1960s are preserved in the archive of Donald Chesworth.

16 August 2019

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Christine Lawrence (left) with (l-r) Bishop Trevor Huddleston, Donald Chesworth and Reverend Austen Williams, 1972

A fascinating aspect of cataloguing the papers of Donald Chesworth has been getting to know the man himself, his friends and his colleagues. A name that crops up frequently in the archive is that of Christine Lawrence. Born in 1930, Lawrence attended Grammar School in Marlborough, and went on to take courses in secretarial work, bookkeeping and children’s social care. She subsequently worked for various educational organisations and charities in secretarial and administrative roles. In the early 1960s she acted as Secretary to Donald Chesworth, who at that time was a Local Councillor in North Kensington. Lawrence later joined War On Want, an anti-poverty charity which Chesworth was a trustee of. She became a close friend of Chesworth and remained in contact with him throughout his life. When Chesworth died in 1990, she was involved in sorting his papers before they were transferred to Queen Mary Archives.

Lawrence and Chesworth were dedicated supporters of educational projects both in the United Kingdom and Africa. One of their projects, partly funded by War On Want, was the development of a Young Farmers Training Centre in Mahiwa, Tanzania. In February 1965, Lawrence left England and was to spend much of the next six years in Mahiwa, helping to run the centre.

The Young Farmers Training Centre was the brainchild of Reverend Trevor Huddleston, Bishop of Masasi, who wanted to provide educational opportunities for school leavers and improve the standard of farming in local villages. In line with political thought in Tanzania at the time, the curriculum emphasised the importance of co-operative societies, and Ujamaa principles were taught. Roughly translating from the Swahili as “familyhood”, Ujamaa was a form of African socialism which encouraged communal ownership of land and collaborative working in the agricultural sector. Such was the Government’s commitment to these principles, that the Mahiwa Young Farmers Training Centre was opened by the President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere.

It was intended that the students, after two years of study, would return to their villages and become leaders in agricultural development. In reality, the students often encountered resistance from their families and neighbours who were used to traditional methods of farming and were unwilling to try new techniques. In later years students were mostly taken from existing Ujamaa villages, which by the 1970s were becoming more prevalent. The training centre also established a Settlement in Chipitie, to provide further practical training in Ujamaa principals.

Technically, Christine Lawrence joined the training centre as Secretary and Bursar. In reality, she seems to have been a Jack of all trades, turning her hand to whatever needed doing at the time. Her letters to Chesworth and her annual Christmas newsletters contain many anecdotes about her life at the training centre. In a newsletter she describes how on one occasion she was “sent by the Principal to buy a young improved bull. Carelessly I thought it could get into the Land Rover to travel to Mahiwa, but that proved not to be practical, either for the bull or the Land Rover.”

Lawrence was particularly influential in getting the training centre to establish a girls’ department. Construction started in 1969, and Lawrence again demonstrated she could turn her hand to any task by helping to design the girls’ dormitories. The curriculum was broadly similar to that of the boys’ department, but with the addition of courses in hygiene and nutrition.

Despite her intense work ethic, Lawrence also found time to explore some of Tanzania’s National Parks on a solo road trip. Describing it in one of her newsletters, she wrote “I shall never forget my first sight of elephants: mother, father and about three children of different ages, all standing in a row at the road waiting to cross, for all the world looking like a human family doing road drill! My old 1960 Volkswagen Beatle behaved very well all the way so everyone at Mahiwa waiting to hear tales of disaster was disappointed. However, let me assure you that it was certainly not easy driving for much of the way. We did about 1,400 miles.”

Lawrence appears to have been popular with both staff and students. At her leaving party in 1970 the Principal of the training centre, Pascal Mwiyombela, described her as “a true friend and a devoted worker”. She was presented with a spear decorated with coloured beads which represented her courage and determination.

Following Lawrence’s departure the centre experienced financial difficulties and was taken over by a neighbouring adult education college in 1974, but continued to teach agricultural courses and courses for women.

Christine Lawrence’s commitment to Tanzania lasted throughout her life. She was heavily involved in the Britain-Tanzania Society and left them a bequest when she died. Her obituary in Tanzanian Affairs, the Society’s magazine, described her as “a most able and efficient person… she touched the lives of many people and she will be very much missed”.

If you would like to consult any items from the archive of Donald Chesworth, please contact archives@qmul.ac.uk.

 

 

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